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Harvard Professor, BU Researcher Among 3 Charged With Illegal Ties To China

BOSTON (CBS) – Three people tied to universities and a hospital in the Boston area were indicted on charges they lied about their ties to China or tried to help the Chinese government. Among them was Dr. Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard University's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

Prosecutors said Lieber had a contract with Wuhan Institute of Technology. He also ran a group that had contracts with the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health.

Federal agents said Lieber lied about his ties to China when he bid on those contracts.

"It appears China paid Lieber hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for his involvement with the Chinese entities and for his work on research for Chinese gain," said U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling.

Lieber was arrested at his Harvard University office and then placed on administrative leave. He will not be able to participate in his teaching or research roles, the university said.

A Harvard spokesman issued a statement on Lieber's arrest:

The charges brought by the U.S. government against Professor Lieber are extremely serious. Harvard is cooperating with federal authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, and is initiating its own review of the alleged misconduct.  Professor Lieber has been placed on indefinite administrative leave.

Charles Lieber
Dr. Charles Lieber. (Image Credit: Harvard University)

The second indictment is a Chinese national who was working as a researcher at Boston University. Lelling said Yanqing Ye is a lieutenant of the Chinese military, but failed to disclose that while applying for a U.S. visa. Ye is currently in China and has not been arrested.

"A border search of her electronic devices showed that Ye had complied information for the People's Liberation Army about two U.S. residents with expertise in robotics and computer science," said Lelling.

Boston University said Ye left the school in April 2019 and they are fully cooperating with the investigation.

The third indictment is Chinese national Zaosong Zheng who was sponsored by Harvard and working as a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was allegedly caught at Logan Airport in December trying to smuggle biological material out of the country.

Beth Israel Deaconess released a statement of its own:

We are deeply proud of the breadth and depth of our research programs. Any efforts to compromise research undermine the hard work of our faculty and staff to advance patient care. We are grateful for the diligence and professionalism of federal law enforcement in this case and are fully cooperating with the government's ongoing investigation of this matter.

"Boston is an especially attractive target for this kind of exploitation. Universities, research institutions and tech companies in this area must become sensitized to this type of threat," said Lelling. "This is not an accident or coincidence. This is a small sample of China's ongoing campaign to siphon off American technology and knowhow for Chinese gain."

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